By Tyson Bruce
When the beloved family pet suddenly takes tragically ill what do we do? We do the only sensible and humane thing we can: put it down gently and move on with our lives. If not, then it serves to only harm the animal and us. The constant fixation by the sports media on the failure of the Pacquiao-Mayweather bout has become boxing’s version of the sick pet that we can’t put down. It rules over the popular culture and debate of the sport like a dark cloud. If we imagine boxing as a ship and its participants as the crew, then the failure of the Pacquiao-Mayweather fight has become its albatross. It serves as both a paralyzing and tormenting force to the sport: “Day after day, day after day,/We stuck, nor breath nor motion;/As idle as a painted ship/Upon a painted ocean.”
In fact, the exclusivity of debate on this belabored topic may be the single greatest threat to the long-term health of the sport. How does it look when the mainstream debate of a sport focuses not on an upcoming fight or fighters, but rather on a fight that no sane person believes will ever happen? It makes it look like a dying sport because it reinforces the idea that there is nothing better to talk about. In reality, this could not be farther from the truth. Boxing, despite what the geniuses on Pardon the Interruption will have you believe, is not a dying sport. In fact, in 2013 we saw an explosion of new talent that laid the groundwork for boxing’s next generation of stars.
Fighters like Adonis Stevenson, Sergey Kovalev, Keith Thurman, Ruslan Provodinikov, Gennady Golovkin and Danny Garcia suddenly emerged as house hold names within the boxing community. Those are the guys we should be writing about. Instead, far too much ink is wasted griping over the fact that two near over-the-hill millionaires are either too afraid or petty to settle their feud in the ring. The Pacquiao-Mayweather argument also masks an even greater problem within the sport, which is the ‘Cold War’ between the two major promotional factions: Golden Boy and Top Rank. That particular feud is much more detrimental because it prevents so many future matchups from happening. That boxing is essentially a separate two league sport is much more disturbing than Mayweather and Pacquiao not fighting each other.
Regardless of who you feel carries the majority of the blame the truth is that blood is on both of their hands. Mayweather’s continued denial of Pacquiao’s merit and Richard Schaffer’s refusal to let bygones be bygones with Bob Arum has caused Golden Boy to become an isolated—albeit powerful—force within the sport. Bob Arum’s recent tirade, in which he likened Mayweather to Hitler, although hilarious, certainly won’t ingratiate future cooperation between the two. It’s actually surprising that with all the sustained rhetoric on both sides that hope for the fight has held out this long.
I guess fans kept hoping that we would see a Leonard-Hagler or Lewis-Tyson ‘better late than never’ scenario emerge, but as the Cold War gets warmer and both fighters continue to get older that glimmer of hope is quickly fading into darkness. Though it is both tragic and pathetic that a common ground could not be found to make this fight, boxing fans have plenty too look forward to in 2014.
It’s time to embrace a matchup like Manny Pacquiao-Tim Bradley II, which, save for an immediate Pacquiao-Mayweather fight, is the single most significant match-up in the entire sport. Aside from the fact that their first bout was not very entertaining the matchup brings a lot of different elements to the table. It has intrigue and controversy because of the horrendous scoring of the first bout and a redemption angle for both men that did not exist before the first fight. Almost in spite of everyone Bradley used the hatred and controversy of the first fight to buoy him towards becoming a better fighter. In 2013, Bradley looked like a young welterweight Evander Holyfield—skilled and determined to prove to the critics that they got it wrong about him.
Since his devastating KO loss to Juan Manuel Marquez, every subsequent fight for Pacquiao will be a litmus test for how much he has left in the tank. Fighters are consumed by hubris and it must be devastating for such a dominant champion as Pacquiao has been to now be regarded as a spent force by many critics. In fact, confidence in Pacquiao has declined so much that despite the fact that most experts had him winning nine of twelve rounds against Bradley, he may very well be regarded as the underdog the second time around. Regardless, the stakes are much higher for the second bout. Pacquiao must win if he wants to continue his reign as the era’s premier star and for Bradley only a convincing performance will earn the universal respect that has always eluded him. The combined incentive for both men could make it a truly special fight.
Aside from Pacquiao-Bradley, another significant fight will essentially symbolize the end of an era in boxing. That fight is of course Miguel Cotto vs. Sergio Martinez, which pits two of the most recognized and acclaimed boxer’s of the last several years against one another. Although both are regarded as being a few years past their prime, the significance of the matchup and the large fan bases of both men make it the Latin Super-Bowl of boxing. The bout also provides something new for both men, which considering how seasoned and accomplished both are really says something about the matchup. For Cotto it is a chance to make history and become the first Puerto Rican to win titles in four different weight divisions and for Martinez it’s a chance to finally get one of the premier stars in boxing in the ring with him after years of being avoided. As great as both men are the winner of this fight stands to dramatically alter his place in the history of boxing.
The fan reaction to Floyd Mayweather’s recent decision to fight Marcos Maidana—the lesser of two evils—underscored the hostility and angst many boxing fans feel towards him. Despite the fact that every independent poll showed that Maidana was the preferred opponent over Khan, fans none-the-less took to social media to voice their outrage. These feelings of hostility are byproducts of his failure to fight Pacquiao, the same way it was when Mayweather supporters unfairly trashed Pacquiao’s legacy after his loss to Marquez.
The best way to deal with this anger, regardless of what side your on, is not to sling petty insults but to simply move on. Boxing was here before Mayweather and Pacquiao and will be here long after their gone. This is already a barbershop fantasy fight but people are just too stubborn to admit it. It’s time we put this sickness in boxing to bed before it causes us to miss out on the potential greatness in front of us. Hopefully when the next two defining stars of the era emerge they will have learned from history that its better to have fought and tried than not to have fought at all.